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Self-harm and the challenges faced by GPs

mie LutherOver the past year mruk research, as part of the Cello Group, has been involved in a ground breaking piece of research on behalf of the teen mental health charity YoungMinds. Talking Taboos – ‘talking self-harm’ was launched on Tuesday in central London. The main aims of the research were to explore society’s perceptions of young people who self-harm, and to look at the barriers encountered when trying to help to this growing number of young people.

In conjunction with our sister company RS Consulting we carried out a representative online survey to further explore GPs’ views and experiences of self-harm.  Whilst our research found that the majority (86%) of GPs are comfortable talking about self-harm they also conveyed a number of significant challenges faced when trying to manage self-harming behaviour in young people.

  • The biggest challenge identified was the limited consultation time which is seldom long enough to deal with the complexities of the issue. GPs often feel like they can patch up the wounds but they do not have enough time to get to the root cause of the problem – “There are always complex underlying issues and within a 10 minute consultation it is difficult to even begin to unravel the problems.”
  • Comprehensive information is needed on who GPs can refer young people to and how, including both statutory and voluntary organisations. Results showed that 88% of GPs felt current referral options were insufficient. Because of the stigma associated with seeing a medical professional, GPs felt that having more voluntary organisations in the community, that patients could access without referral, would help increase the numbers of patients seeking treatment for self-harm.
  • Further education and training is needed to increase understanding of why young people self-harm. How GPs can support young people who do self-harm should be covered in initial GP training and should also be available as modules in Continuous Professional Development training.
  • Three in five GPs surveyed wanted improved guidelines tailored specifically towards self-harm. Guidance ought to be available on how to use assessment tools such as NICE guidelines and Integrated Care Pathways and assistance provided in implementing these pathways.

With inpatient hospital admissions for young people who self-harm increasing by 68% over the last 10 years, self-harm is clearly a growing issue, especially considering most self-harm cases do not end up in hospital. Put simply those who are self-harming do not know who to turn to for advice, and our research shows that even if they do seek advice most people are unsure how to help.

We need to take to ‘oo’ out of taboo, and this is where @TalkingTaboos plays such a critical role! With the patronage of Claire Perry MP and lots of media interest (not to mention a tweet from Stephen Fry!) people are already starting to talk more openly.  This more open approach will encourage young people to seek out the help they need without feeling judged or embarrassed, and parents and carers have the information to deal with the issue effectively.

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